Next time you’re in the vicinity of a hardware store, stop in and ask for the sledgehammers. They are a relatively cheap, easy way to get an effective Primal workout. Building your own exercise equipment is fun and satisfying (and inexpensive) in its own way, but sometimes you just want a simple, over the counter alternative. We aren’t all DIY types, after all. It fits the general criteria for Primal workouts: natural movements that engage the entire body in a full range of motion; heavy thing on stick that can withstand vigorous pounding. Men and women have been working with large hammers for millennia, as tools of work and of war. Smashing things with heavy objects is in our blood.
The best part about the sledgehammer workout is that it doesn’t really seem like work. It takes me back to childhood when, for whatever reason, I’d often wander around the countryside interacting with the environment in various (and sometimes destructive) ways. Throw rocks and logs into ponds (nothing better than a big splash on an empty, tranquil lake), smash rocks together or against tree trunks, test out my boxing skills on whichever tree had relatively soft bark. Just the pure, uninhibited release of bottled up boyish energy.
It sounds silly, but it’s true. There was something incredible about generating a huge amount of force and making contact with the world around me. That point of impact – when the rock smashed into something – was the best. Now, every time I do pick up that sledgehammer for a few rounds of work, that rush of childhood energy comes surging out and I don’t even realize I’ve just exhausted my core, back, arms, and grip. I’m always smiling, though.
How to Workout with a Sledgehammer
To get started, you’ll need a sledgehammer (check out the various sizes in the store and handle each one; a sixteen pounder should be enough for anyone, and less fit people might want to start with ten or twelve pounds) and access to a surface that can withstand repeated and protracted bashings. You generally want to avoid hitting concrete or your living room floor with these things, and sand or soft earth might work, but the industry standard seems to be a used rubber tire. Huge truck tires are the most durable; regular car tires are a lot easier to find, can go inside, and they work just fine. I went to Costco’s automotive department and they just gave me a bunch of old ones for free (not pictured here).
The basic sledgehammer workout is all about letting loose while maintaining proper form. Luckily, because you’re working with relatively lighter weights and probably have some experience swinging a heavy object, form isn’t a major problem and most people will naturally assume the correct position (if you’d like a more detailed treatise on sledgehammer form, check out this).
The Diagonal Swing
This is the basic sledgehammer swing. Stand in front of the tire, about two feet away from it. If you’re swinging from your right side, your left foot should be closer to the tire. Again, this will come naturally when you start swinging.
Grip the sledgehammer. Your left hand should be at the bottom of the handle, and your right hand should be choking up closer to the head. As you bring the sledge up, your right hand slides toward the head; as you swing down, your right hand will slide down to join your left hand.
Slam it down as hard as you can against the tire. It will bounce upon impact, but you have to control this. In fact, controlling the bounce is half the workout.
The Overhead Swing
If you did just the diagonal swing (making sure to switch sides, of course), you’d be getting a pretty complete sledgehammer workout. If you want a bit more than that, try the two handed overhead swing. Both hands remain in place for this one, and there is no switching of sides (do switch your hands from time to time, though). Grip the sledgehammer with both hands at the bottom of the shaft and stand a bit further back from the tire. Center yourself – no staggered feet this time. Bring the sledge directly over head and then slam it down. Repeat until you can’t maintain proper form.
Throw five or ten minutes of sledge work to the end of your next strength session. The swings are great for metabolic conditioning, so you could think of it as a variation of a sprint session; you’re generating the maximum amount of force with a single movement repeated over and over again. For your next sprint day, pick up a sledgehammer instead and do Tabata intervals (VIDEO).
Sledgehammer workouts probably won’t replace your normal routine, but they’re not supposed to. They’re supplementary, and it’s about achieving balance. I imagine a truly dedicated user could get into great shape through just sledgehammer workouts, but I think optimum fitness means utilizing everything at your disposal: weights, sprints, hikes, play, bodyweight HIIT, and then some routines utilizing fun gear (slosh tubes, sandbags, medicine balls, kettlebells, maces, clubbells, sledgehammers).
Some other interesting sledgehammer ideas, for anyone looking for more ways to use one:
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.